Thursday, December 14, 2006

12.14.2006 Council Inaugurates Marian Solomon Champion of Peace Award

About fifty of Marian Solomon’s family members, friends, colleagues, and associates packed the Ames Public Library's Community Room on the evening of Tuesday, December 11, to recognize and celebrate the Iowa activist’s persistent and continuing efforts in behalf of peace, social justice, and interfaith activism.

“I feel that I have not accomplished, really, very much, but I have done what I felt I had to do," said Solomon, graciously accepting the Ames Interfaith Council's Champion of Peace Award.

Council Chairperson Iowa State Univesity Professor Stephen Aigner, who represents the Darul Arqum Islamic Center of Ames, presented the award and lauded Solomon as "Iowa's answer to Bianca Jagger, but with more grace, experience, and gravitas."

The Council established the award, which is named for Solomon, in order to recognize and celebrate, from time to time, the efforts of Iowa peace, justice, and interfaith activists whose efforts too often go without public recognition or appreciation.

Raised a Methodist, Solomon began her career as an advocate for peace, non-violence, social justice, and interfaith activism as a student of the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. During 1953 and 1954, she shared a house with British Quaker Marjorie Sykes at the ashram in Sevagram, where Sykes served as Principal of Gandhiji's Basic Education Program, which involved training teachers to promote Gandhian social reforms and educational experiments. Solomon served as a community nurse, providing care for some 300 children who were involved in basic and post-basic educational programs in Sevagram. In addition to Ghandi, Solomon cites Dorothy Day, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King, Jr. among those who have influenced her work.

In accepting the award recognizing her several decades of activism, Solomon expressed strong feelings about the recent history of her country, much of which she has seen from the front lines of the cutting edge of social change.

"In the last 50 years, the American empire has really lost its way," said Solomon. "Rather than making peace and helping people in this world, we are destroying it."

When she returned from India, Solomon became involved in programs with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in New England, where her husband, Ted, attended seminary, and in Chicago. The Solomons found their way to North Carolina in the early 60s. In Laurinburg, North Carolina, where she served as secretary of the NAACP for Scotland County, Solomon and her family came to the attention of KKK leaders who threatened to burn a cross on their lawn.

"It never happened," says Solomon, dismissing the threats of the White supremacist group that sought to terrorize her and her family and other civil rights activists who were registering Black voters. Solomon and her husband were later arrested for marching and praying with Martin Luther King, Jr.'s brother A.D. King and others in Florida protests in behalf of sanitation workers' rights, about six months after Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis. "That was my first time in jail," says Solomon.

By the time the Solomons relocated to Iowa in 1969 when Ted accepted a teaching position at Iowa State University, the couple had become known for their activism. Looking back on those days, Solomon recalled that her husband had previously met then-governor Harold Hughes at a spiritual life retreat. She relates with a laugh that, later, at a reception for new faculty, Hughes introduced her and her husband to ISU President Robert Parks, ISU Press Board Chair Carl Hamilton and other administrators as "my favorite jailbirds."

Solomon's nonviolent activism in behalf of peace and social justice has taken her to Central America, where she was a Witness for Peace in Nicragua in 1984 and 1987. In 1994, she traveled to Cuernavaca, Mexico to take part in a work camp with Catholic Workers and the Methodist Social Action Committee. More recently, Solomon's work has taken her to the Middle East. In the past five years, she has traveled to Iraq once and to Palestine twice with Christian Peacemaker Teams where she worked in Hebron.

Solomon noted that she has been banned and barred for her activism at the School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, Georgia. Closer to home, she has participated in protests at the Strategic Air Command base in Omaha with Des Moines Catholic Worker leader Frank Cordaro and others. Solomon was arrested in 2003 for crossing the line at Camp Dodge near Des Moines, another action sponsored by Catholic Worker and Catholic Peace Ministry leaders.

"I've been banned and barred more than I've been arrested," said Solomon, resplendent in a traditional embroidered Palestinian thobe.

Solomon jokes that her three grown children think she's "a bit much sometimes." She notes that they took part in protest marches in the South when they were young. Friends say her children are as proud of their mother as she is of them.

Currently Marian Solomon serves as Chair of the Social Action Committee at Collegiate United Methodist Church in Ames, where she is active in the Stephen Ministry. With the help of Frank Amos, she also represents Collegiate United Methodist on the cabinet of the Ames Interfaith Council.

Aigner also commended Ina Couture of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church and Student Center, Louise Dengler of Church Women United, and Howard Johnson of First Baptist Church for their dedicated service to the Council. Refreshments were provided by Ron Matthews of Unity Church of Ames, Haifa Akili of Darul Arqum Islamic Center of Ames, Betty Wright of Collegiate Presbyterian Church, Russ Melby of Bethesda Lutheran Church, and Betsy Mayfield and Michael Gillespie of the TCPC Study Group.

Mayfield read a lovely and moving poem written in honor of Marian Solomon, her longtime friend.